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Tips and tricks for your 2017 fantasy baseball draft

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Tip No. 1: Probably don’t draft Omar Infante

Division Series - Toronto Blue Jays v Texas Rangers - Game Two
Ian Desmond’s move to Coors Field after a breakout year could result in even greater production.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

For many of the lean years in the mid-2000s, my vested interest in baseball was kept alive only because of fantasy baseball. I can’t have been the only one. Sure, I’d watch the Royals whenever I could, but it didn’t mean anything. Fantasy baseball meant something. And, yeah, I know that sounds backwards, but so did most of things that happened to the mid-2000s Royals.

Maybe, like me, you’re still playing fantasy baseball, years after the Royals began to climb out of the cellar. Maybe you’re trying to get back into the swing of things after a few years off. Or maybe you’re finally giving in and joining a league for the first time. Don’t worry — I’m here to share the tips and tricks that led me to many one championship over the years and such prescient picks as 2010’s Jose Bautista Brian Bannister. We’ll go over how to build your team through the draft and then discuss possible sleepers and busts for this season.

Again, and I cannot stress this enough, I once drafted Brian Bannister, so you probably shouldn’t trust anything I say here. Tristan Cockcroft, I am not.

Draft strategy

Fantasy baseball championships aren’t won in the first few rounds of the draft — they’re won in the mid-to-late rounds and on the waiver wire. Everyone knows to pick the elite of the elite in the first round, but after that, things aren’t so clear-cut. Here are some things to look for when making your selections.

Dual-eligibility. In general, a player is eligible at a position if he met a threshold of games played there either last year or in the current season—typically around 10. That means some players can be slotted into different positions in your lineup beyond their primary spot. Every game you can squeeze out of Monday’s and Thursday’s off-days matters, and good flexibility in your roster allows you to maximize the numbers of games you get out of your players.

Top prospects. You don’t want to spend too much on rookies or players expected to make their debut later in the season, but top prospects can still be well-worth a late-round flier. If you like a prospect, but he hasn’t been called up yet, and you don’t want to waste bench space, then keep a close eye on them and snatch them off the waiver wire when a call-up looks imminent.

Market inefficiencies. Chances are the players in your league will overvalue some positions and statistical categories and undervalue others. If you see this happening, it’s time to take advantage by going against the grain. For example, I’ve found success in a league that consistently looks down on relievers by grabbing four or five of the top ten closers early and supplementing them with a couple of steady, innings-eating starters. I may never lead the league in wins, but I often lead the league in saves, ERA, and WHIP. Punting on one or two categories to guarantee success in several more can be an effective strategy.

Target these Royals:

Because this is a Royals website, let’s briefly go over the Royals who could represent the most value in your draft—especially if you play in a league with fans of other teams who won’t have the same Royals knowledge base as you.

Danny Duffy. Duffy broke out last season and goes into 2017 as the Royals’ de facto number-one starter. But he’s not yet a national star, so he could still go later than he should in your draft. I’m not convinced that Duffy will necessarily improve this year, but if he can put up similar numbers, he could represent quality value in your draft.

Mike Moustakas. We don’t know for certain whether the effects of Moose’s ACL injury will hamper him this season. His disappearance from the field will cause him to slide way down draft boards this season, but it also overshadows a strong start to 2016. Moustakas is an excellent buy-low candidate for this year.

Lorenzo Cain. Cain also dealt with injury problems last year, as he has for his entire career, so only draft him if you believe he can avoid missing substantial time. But if he manages to stay healthy, he could represent significant value for the team. Remember, Cain is only one season removed from an MVP-caliber campaign. While he’s now on the wrong side of 30, he should still have a few more years of solid production left in him.

Don’t draft, but keep a close eye on: Ian Kennedy (a bounce-back candidate), Jason Hammel (if he gets off to a good start with his new team), and Matt Strahm (if he doesn’t get Finneganed).

Avoid these Royals:

Alex Gordon. If your league doesn’t include many Royals fans, someone will likely draft Gordon on name recognition, overlooking last season’s decline. If your league includes lots of Royals fans, some poor homer will probably draft him too high. Sure, Gordon is a bounce-back candidate, but he carries too much risk to be drafted as high as he’ll likely go.

The new power hitters. Maybe it’s just my perception, but it feels like most Royals fans are expecting Soler to have a rocky start in Kansas City. And I’m one of them. It’s always risky for a power hitter to move to the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium, so wait for Soler and Brandon Moss to prove they can rake consistently at the K before you pick them up.

Every middle infielder on the roster. It’s where the Royals’ offensive stats go die.

You could draft, but be hesitant with: Eric Hosmer (likely overrated in most leagues), Kelvin Herrera (an excellent closer, but not at the level of ’15-’16 Davis or ’14-’15 Holland), and Salvador Perez (the WBC injury).

Other players to target:

There are some players (the Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the world) that you’ll always draft if you get the chance. This list is not for those players. Instead, the following players should be strong breakout candidates you should consider drafting later, after those absolute locks of the first couple rounds are off the board.

Be sure to run some mock drafts to get a feel for where these players are going. And this is by no means a comprehensive list. But consider drafting:

Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS) should claim an everyday role in Boston, which ought to bode well for his production. Lots of fantasy championships are won because flier picks on rookies end up producing early-round stats for a late-round cost, so if a player like Benintendi lives up to their potential, you’re in great shape.

Alex Bregman (3B, HOU) is another young player on the verge of a breakout, who, like Benintendi, made his debut last year. He gets to play in a stacked Astros lineup, and he looks like he’ll fit right in, putting up good-but-not-great numbers despite dealing with a hamstring injury late in the year. Given how weak third base is this year, Bregman’s worth a shot.

Ian Desmond (OF, COL) already had a breakout year with Texas in 2016, and now moves to the hitters’ paradise of Coors Field. He’s getting drafted outside the top 100 in ESPN leagues, and should be going much higher.

DJ LeMahieu (2B, COL) has quietly become an elite contributor at second base — a position that is generally one of the weakest in fantasy baseball — because of his consistent, hard contact. He could easily be a top-five second baseman, but he’s somehow falling outside the top 10 second basemen in some leagues, so he has significant sleeper value.

Eduardo Nunez (IF, SF) was one of the only bright spots for the Twins last year before being traded to the Giants. He had a breakout campaign, and if he continues to get playing time, he should put up similar or slightly-worse numbers in 2017. Regardless, he represents good value because of his positional versatility and his penchant for stolen bases.

Jose Quintana (SP, CWS) will be limited by playing for the White Sox, but he’ll continue to rack up plenty of quality innings. Consistent innings-eaters like Quintana are often undervalued in fantasy, but can lay an excellent foundation for your rotation. Look for pitchers in that mold.

Kyle Schwarber (OF, CHC) has appealing upside for several reasons. He’s shown flashes of his potential during the last couple postseasons, but missed nearly all of 2016 with a knee injury. Now presumably healthy, he’ll take advantage of Soler’s departure and get more playing time in a loaded Chicago lineup. And don’t forget this:

Pretty much any Royal that left in the offseason: Kendrys Morales gets to play within Toronto’s murderer’s row (but make sure your league has a DH slot). Jarrod Dyson will finally get his chance at regular playing time with Seattle. Wade Davis is Wade Davis.

Other players to avoid:

This list isn’t an “avoid at all costs, do not draft” list. Any player can be valuable if they fall far enough down the draft board. But these players? They’re not going to fall that far.

Robinson Cano (2B, SEA) is now 34 years old, so I’m not buying his rebound 2016 season as much more than a blip. If you’re going to spend a high pick to get Cano, you’d be better off with a player like Daniel Murphy or even Rougned Odor. But you’re a Royals fan, so you were never going to draft Cano anyway.

Todd Frazier (3B, CWS) is only worth a pick if you need home runs and aren’t concerned about sacrificing batting average to get them. His stats have become increasingly polarized since joining the White Sox (and playing for them won’t offer much help in the runs/RBIs department). It looks like he’s being overvalued in most leagues.

Zack Greinke (SP, ARI) isn’t getting any younger, and he put up his worst season in 10 years in 2016. He could bounce back: He had a career year in 2015, but the D-backs aren’t the Dodgers, and I’m not sure he’s worth what you’d have to pay for him. Let someone else make the nostalgia pick.

Felix Hernandez (SP, SEA) was once an ace. But last season he had a career worst year. His FIP shot above 4.00 for the first time in his career, and it wasn’t close (4.63). He’s had to deal with injuries limiting his innings for the first time, too. There’s too much risk — stay away from King Felix.

Matt Kemp (OF, ATL) is somehow being drafted among the top 100 players in ESPN leagues, so I guess I have to tell you not to draft Matt Kemp. Don’t be fooled by last year’s power surge: Kemp is a declining player on a team mired in a rebuild. I just don’t see the value of using a top-100 pick on Kemp when a regression back to his slumping season-and-a-half in San Diego seems more likely than sustained success.

Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) has been slowed by injuries in recent years. I’ve kept McCutchen in a keeper league for several years running, but that streak will end this year. He just isn’t the same player he once was, and someone else can overpay for the name instead.

George Springer (OF, HOU) has yet to put it all together and live up to his top-prospect billing. His success last season was primarily volume-based, fueled by a league-leading 744 plate appearances. He’s really becoming a three-true-outcomes kind of player, and while he has value, it’s not enough to justify where he’ll likely be picked in your league unless your draft strategy puts an emphasis on dingers.

Got any tips and trick of your own? Tell us your drafting successes and failures!